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House forms first-ever Legislative Progressive Caucus

More than a dozen Democratic Florida House members have formed the Progressive Legislative Caucus, with firebrand state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando elected as its first chair.

The caucus held its organization meeting last week with Smith becoming chair, state Rep. Amy Mercado of Orlando vice chair, and state Rep. Joseph Abruzzo of Boca Raton as clerk.

“As we enter the final weeks of the 2017 legislative session, the Legislative Progressive Caucus will adopt caucus positions on key legislation to underscore our values and priorities,” Smith stated in a news release.

Other charter members included state Reps. Robert Asencio of Miami, Lori Berman of Lantana, Daisy Baez of Coral Gables, John Cortes of Kissimmee, Nicholas Duran of Miami, Joseph Gellar of Aventura, Evan Jenne of Dania Beach, Barrington Russell of Lauderdale Lakes, Sean Shaw of Tampa, Emily Slosberg of Boca Raton, Richard Stark of Weston, and Clovis Watson of Alachua.

The caucus put out a release stating that its members were inspired by the Congressional Progressive Caucus and aim to unite the progressive wing of the Democratic Caucus as a collective block to influence key legislation and advocate for progressive policy solutions that benefit all Floridians.

The caucus is committed to advocating for social and economic justice and security for all Floridians, protecting civil rights, civil liberties and advancing environmental protection and sustainability in the Sunshine State, according to the release.

 

How Frank Artiles colleagues should respond to his defiance

A great deal has already been said about the yes-he-really-said-it Frank Artiles saga.

And there seems to be near-universal agreement on these points:

— Artiles is a world-class jerk.

— What he said goes far beyond the limits of acceptable.

— This was not his first foray into the unacceptable.

— Artiles needs professional help.

— The Senate President needs to either send him home for the session (so presumably he can get some much-needed help), encourage (also read as “force”) him to resign, or use whatever power is afforded him to have him removed from office. Something!

But there is another element and let me be among the first to write it.

Hey, senators not named Frank Artiles, now it’s your turn — and, unfortunately, there is a burden that probably falls to the black members and then the Democrats, in that order.

This is uncomfortable, and a little unfair, but the calls for an apology or sanction are not enough.

The members of the Black Caucus, in particular, know American history all too well — heck, they are living embodiments of what peaceful civil protest can yield. And they know, perhaps better than their colleagues, the power that sitting, standing, staying or leaving can have.

So here goes: If Artiles shows up to a committee or on the Senate floor, they should quietly stand up and leave. The Black Caucus members need to lead on this and, as a show of solidarity, their fellow Democrats should leave as well. I can easily take this to its natural conclusion and say ALL members should rise and quietly leave.

Why?

Not for themselves. Not for the press. Not to force the hand of the Senate President. They should walk out because their voters will genuinely appreciate that they would not sit (literally) for such utter nonsense. Members of the Black Caucus need to express zero tolerance for Artiles’ comments and his behavior.

Artiles, by merely being in the room, degrades the legitimacy of the body. Likewise, sharing the dais or the floor with him adds an element of complicity to those who tolerate his presence.

Sorry, senators. I don’t mean to make you the target, but not taking more serious action is almost tantamount to acquiescence.

Darryl Paulson: The Era of Bad Feelings

The Era of Good Feelings is the term used to describe the aftermath of the War of 1812 where the American nation sought to establish national unity during a period of one-party dominance. The Federalist Party, representing the urban and aristocratic citizens, disappeared after the disastrous Hartford Convention in 1814, leaving only the Jeffersonian Republicans as the sole political party. The Jeffersonian Republicans so dominated the political landscape that President James Monroe ran unopposed in 1820 and would have won a unanimous vote in the electoral college except for the vote of a few rouge electors.

With the death of the Federalist Party, Monroe went on a national goodwill tour in 1817. While in Boston, the former Federalist stronghold, the term Era of Good Feeling was first used in a local paper.

I am coining a new term to describe the current state of affairs of American politics: the Era of Bad Feelings.

We have two political parties and each one hates the other. While political parties, by nature, are competitive, they have had a history of working together until the 1980s. After about a half-century of Democratic Party dominance in Congress from the 1930s to the 1980s, the Republican Party decided to stop working with the Democrats and, instead, oppose them on virtually every issue. Compromise was replaced by conflict.

The end of compromise led to the collapse of ideological diversity in both political parties. Entering the 1980s, both the Republican and Democratic Parties had a mix of moderates, liberals and conservatives. Today, the Republicans have a few moderates among the mostly conservative ranks, and the Democrats have a few moderates among its liberal base. The political center is gone and the political extremes dominate both parties.

Political hatred of the other party has grown so strong, that it affects what we read, what we watch, where we live and even who we marry. A Pew Research study of 10,000 Americans found that partisans prefer living in communities of like-minded individuals. Fifty percent of conservatives and 35 percent of liberals think it is “important to live in a place where people share my political views.”

Liberals watch MSNBC and read American Prospect, the Progressive and the Daily Kos. Conservatives have Fox News and Rush Limbaugh to listen to, and they read the Drudge Report, Weekly Standard, National Review and Breitbart.

As Americans increasingly live in communities of like-minded individuals and limit their viewing and reading only to sources that support their political views, it has led to a hardening of the political arteries. They constantly have their own political views reinforced instead of challenged.

Political hatred is becoming so ingrained in Americans that parents increasingly object to their children marrying outside their faith. I’m not talking about religious faith, but their political faith. A half-century ago, only 5 percent of Americans objected if their child married a member of the opposite party. Today, that number has increased to 40 percent.

As part of the growing intolerance of those who hold opposing political views, we increasingly engage in stereotyping to justify our hatred. Instead of dealing with individuals, it is easier to ascribe negative traits to everyone who belongs to the “wrong party.”

Republicans stereotype Democrats as socialists intent on destroying the free enterprise system and encouraging individuals to go on welfare rather than work. Remember Mitt Romney‘s statement to Republican donors that he could not win the vote of 47 percent of the American voters because they were dependent on government handouts?

Democrats attack Republicans as homophobic Neanderthals who hate women and minorities, and they have no compassion for the less fortunate in society.

Stereotyping is the lazy person’s way to stop dealing with people as individuals and instead lump everyone together as a bad person. It is so much easier to dismiss the ideas of an entire group, than it is to sit down and talk about an issue and how to resolve it.

The most recent manifestation of the Era of Bad Feelings is the 2016 presidential election. Many Republicans hated Hillary Clinton. They would argue that they disliked her because of her policies, but most could not envision any circumstance under which they could support her.

Democrats hated Donald Trump because they viewed him as a racist and a womanizer, and they also believed he was unprepared to be president. To many Democrats, the billionaire Trump could never understand the burdens of poor Americans.

Sixty-three million Americans voted for Trump and, yet, somehow Democrats are convinced all of them were crazy. Clinton received 3 million more votes than Trump, but Republicans saw this as a sign of Democratic insanity.

If we spent a fraction of the time trying to understand and empathize with members of the other party, we may actually find that most of them are decent, honest people who have the same concerns that we have. We might even discover that they may have a better idea than we have.

We cannot expect more of politicians than we expect of ourselves. It is time to end the irrational hatred that is counter to our real values and is impeding our ability to solve the problems that desperately need to be solved.

___

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics, political parties and elections.

Joe Henderson: Concern for the environment really depends on which party is in charge

The words “green space” can have a different meaning depending on the person involved.

Democrats generally believe green space to mean protected grasslands, pristine parks, waterways, and regulations to keep companies from belching pollutants into the atmosphere.

Republicans generally appear to believe green space is a metaphor for money that can be made by paving over any empty spot of land they see.

I know that’s a generalization. There are plenty of conservatives who will argue strongly for environmental protection. I put my old friend and former Tampa Tribune editorial chief Joe Guidry at the top of that list.

It is true, though, that Republican administrations often roll back environmental regulations in the name of cutting red tape that they say strangles business.

We saw it in Florida when Gov. Rick Scott gutted many environmental protections (remember the Great Algae Bloom of 2016). The GOP-controlled Legislature scoffed when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2014 requiring the state set aside millions of acres for conservation.

We’re seeing it again in what Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor from Tampa called “President Trump’s attack on the environment and U.S. economy through his executive order” that eliminated many of the Obama-era environment rules.

“By signing the latest in a line of dangerous executive orders, Trump is trying to dismantle America’s commitment to avert climate catastrophe and to stifle America’s clean energy future,” Castor said in a statement.

Trump’s executive order will cost Floridians a lot.  Unless we can slow the damage caused by climate change, Floridians will pay more for property insurance, flood insurance, beach re-nourishment and local taxes as the costs of water infrastructure and coastal resource protection rise.”

Castor, in her sixth term in Congress, is the vice ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. She has a long track record of supporting environmental causes, including the introduction of the Florida Coastal Protection Act that established a 235-mile drilling ban in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida’s west coast.

So yeah, this is personal.

It’s also expected.

You don’t hear many Democrats scoff about the science of climate change. And you haven’t heard many Republicans question Trump’s attempt to jump-start coal mining in the name of job creation.

The problem it, all someone needs is a long memory or access to a computer to see what environmental disregard can do to cities in this country. Have we really forgotten what happened in Cleveland when the Cuyahoga River caught fire from all the pollution?

Have we forgotten how urban smog was threatening the nation’s health? It’s still not great, but it’s better than it was.

When I was a kid growing up in southern Ohio, I remember the Armco steel mill in Middletown turning the night sky orange when workers fired up the coke plant.

We were breathing that stuff. Residents there used to apologize for the foul-tasting sulfur water that smelled like rotten eggs. These things changed because Congress decided things had to change or we were all going down the tubes.

Those laws aren’t designed to strangle business. They’re designed to protect us. People like Kathy Castor still believe that. President Trump apparently does not.

Aramis Ayala loses judge’s ruling but pushes forward to challenge case reassignment

After losing a judge’s ruling Tuesday on her request to remain the prosecutor for the murder trial of of alleged cop-killer Markeith Loyd, Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala vowed Tuesday to continue fighting for her right to represent the state in that case.

Ninth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Frederick Lauten ruled Tuesday that the state attorney from Ocala, Brad King, would represent the state, in the case of Loyd, charged with killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon and Orlando Police Master Sergeant Debra Clayton, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Afterwards, Ayala indicated she would challenge the executive order made by Gov. Rick Scott, stripping the Loyd case from Ayala and assigning it to King, after Ayala had declared she would not pursue the death penalty in that or any other case in her Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, which includes Orange and Osceola counties. To do so, she intends to seek a writ of quo warranto, forcing Scott to show what authority he used to reassign the case.

“By inserting his personal politics into this case, Governor Scott’s unprecedented action is dangerous and could compromise the prosecution of Markeith Loyd and threatens the integrity of Florida’s judicial system. As the judge found today, what has been done is unheard of,” Ayala said in a written statement. “We will move forward to expose the governor’s action as unlawful and unconstitutional in a way that does not compromise the successful prosecution of Markeith Loyd.”

On Tuesday, Ayala appeared in court with Roy Austin, a former federal prosecutor and former legal official in President Barack Obama’s administration, the Sentinel reported.

In related news, Ayala received the backing of the Orange County Young Democrats, whose board voted unanimously to support her prosecutorial discretion to decide to not use the death penalty. That group issued a statement consistent with earlier statements issued by the Orange County Democratic Party Executive Committee, the Orange Democratic Black Caucus, the Florida Democratic Black Caucus, and the Florida Democratic Progressive Caucus.

“Gov. Scott, who has signed more death warrants than any Governor since 1976, has no legitimate reason to remove or suspend State Attorney Ayala from any capitol case and is punishing her for her decision not to seek the death penalty. The decision to seek the death penalty remains solely within the discretion of the State Attorney and her office. Florida law only requires that she gives notice of her intention to seek the death penalty, or not, and State Attorney Ayala has satisfied her legal duties at every step of the way,” the Orange Young Dems declared in their statement. “Governor Rick Scott is conflating death with justice and he is acting on political motives. In choosing to not seek the death penalty, State Attorney Ayala is acting fully within her power and the Orange County Young Democrats stand united in support of her. We demand that Gov. Scott reinstate Aramis Ayala immediately so that she can resume her duties and vital work within the Orange County community.”

Bill Nelson to vote no on Neil Gorsuch

Bill Nelson ended any suspense there may have been regarding his views of President Donald Trump‘s first Supreme Court nominee.

Florida’s Democratic senator intends to vote no on the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch.

Nelson also announced Monday he also would support a Democratic filibuster, by voting against likely Republican efforts to invoke cloture to prevent a filibuster. If a Republican-led closure procedure wins, Nelson said he will vote no on Gorsuch’s confirmation.

Nelson cited Gorsuch’s own testimony and record, making no references to Democrats’ beef that Republicans refused all last year to hold hearings on the nomination of then-President Barack Obama‘s last Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland‎. Gorsuch now is up for that same seat.

“Deciding whether to confirm a president’s nominee for the highest court in the land is a responsibility I take very seriously,” Nelson stated in a news release issued Monday afternoon by his office. “Over the past few weeks, I have met with Judge Gorsuch, listened to the Judiciary Committee’s hearings and reviewed his record with an open mind.

“I have real concerns with his thinking on protecting the right to vote and allowing unlimited money in political campaigns. In addition, the judge has consistently sided with corporations over employees, as in the case of a freezing truck driver who, contrary to common sense, Judge Gorsuch would have allowed to be fired for abandoning his disabled rig during extreme weather conditions,” Nelson added.

 

Veterans group’s mailers target Bill Nelson in Neil Gorsuch vote

Florida voters can expect to receive mailers from a veterans group with Republican ties urging them to urge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson to vote to confirm Neil Gorsuch as a Supreme Court justice.

The group Veterans Concerned for America, run by a former GOP state finance chairman, is making a second round of mailings to Florida voters targeting Nelson. Similar efforts are underway in other states with Democratic senators.

The mailers ask: “Will Senator Bill Nelson  protect the freedoms you fought to defend?” and then urges voters to call his office.

“This week Judge Neil Gorsuch has continued to demonstrate the kind of integrity, independence, and neutrality before the law that he will bring to the Supreme Court bench if he is confirmed,” CVA) Florida Coalitions Director Diego Echeverri stated in a news release. “Gorsuch’s dedication to protecting the Constitution has garnered the respect of political leaders on both sides of the aisle and Floridians of all walks of life who are stepping out every day in his support.

“Since Gorsuch was announced as our next Supreme Court nominee, CVA has been mobilizing our grassroots army in this fight – and we will continue doing so until the moment that the Senate has confirmed Gorsuch to the bench,” Echeverri continued. “We urge Senator Nelson to avoid political theatre this week and to help drive a quick, clean, and thorough hearing process.”

 

Orange County Democratic Party unanimously backs Aramis Ayala

The Orange County Democratic Party announced late Tuesday its executive committee has unanimously backed Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s decision to not pursue the death penalty in Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit.

Orange County Democratic Chairman Wes Hodge said more than 200 people attended the Monday night meeting at which the committee passed two resolutions; one supporting Ayala’s prosecutorial discretion and urging Gov. Rick Scott to rescind his executive order stripping her of the Markeith Loyd case; and one condemning comments from a Seminole County Clerk of Courts official who called for her to be hung from a tree, and calling for his firing.

Hodge said there was considerable discussion but no objections to the resolutions.

The Orange Democrats took the positions following two other developments from Democratic groups supporting Ayala, a Democrat. Earlier Monday the Florida Democratic Progressive Caucus also approved a resolution supporting her, and earlier the Orange County Black Democratic Caucus announced its support.

“When she held her press conference [last Thursday] she was very deliberate in making her case in supporting her beliefs, and why she didn’t think the death penalty was an effective deterrent. That’s what you would expect from a well-seasoned attorney,” Hodge said. “Personally, I do agree that it has been proven that the death penalty is not a deterrent.”

The party’s resolution, however, offers support explicitly for her and her authority to decide what to do with death penalty cases, and does not render any explicit opposition to or support for death penalties. The party is split on that, with Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings supporting the death penalty, as is state Sen. Victor Torres, a retired police detective.

Yet the Orange Democrats’ call has not reached the pitch of opponents and critics of Ayala, principally Republicans, from Scott and State Attorney General Pam Bondi, to numerous lawmakers including Central Florida state Reps. Bob Cortes, who called for her removal; Scott Plakon, who is looking at funding for her office; and Mike Miller and Rene Plasencia, who, with Cortes, called a press conference to condemn her.

Hodge expressed frustration that Ayala is being portrayed as someone accepting of crime including the murders  charged to Loyd, which he called reprehensible, when she, in his view, is being realistic about seeking the surest and shortest route to justice.

All three Democratic groups called for Scott to lay off.

“We view this as a politically-motivated action gearing up for his next election,” Hodge said in a statement that echoed that of the progressive caucus. “His executive order infringes on the independence of state’s attorneys, exceeds his authority as governor, establishes a dangerous precedent, and undermines the will of the voters of Orange and Osceola counties.”

Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida backs Aramis Ayala

Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala has gotten her first significant backing from within her own party, with a resolution supporting her and her actions from the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida.

The group announced Tuesday it has passed a resolution expressing “its support for Aramis Ayala’s right to exercise her prosecutorial discretion when deciding whether or not to pursue the death penalty in any case, and calls upon Governor Rick Scott to immediately rescind his Executive Order removing Aramis Ayala from the Markeith Lloyd case.”

The resolution, which was adopted over the weekend but not disclosed until Tuesday, declares that Scott’s executive order last week stripping the Loyd murder case from Ayala and reassigning it to 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King was a “cynical and politically-motivated action, which infringes on the independence of prosecutors, exceeds his authority, sets a dangerous precedent; and undermines the right of the residents of Orange and Osceola counties to elect their own prosecutor.”

Ayala, state attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, which includes Orange and Osceola counties, announced last Thursday she would not pursue death penalty charges against anyone in the circuit, preferring to seek life imprisonment without parole, and arguing that death penalty cases’ tendencies to drag on for decades were unjust for all, including families of victims. Scott swiftly responded by reassigning the case of Loyd, charged with murdering his pregnant former girlfriend Sade Dixon and Orlando Police Master Sergeant Debra Clayton.

Ayala, a Democrat, has drawn strong, often angry responses from other politicians besides Scott, including several Central Florida lawmakers. On Monday Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes called for Scott to suspend her from office, and from Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres, a retired police detective, who supported Scott’s reassignment of the Loyd case. Few other Democrats have spoken up until now.

“State’s Attorney Ayala was duly elected by the citizens of the Ninth Judicial Circuit. She must be allowed to use her discretion in cases without interference from the governor. Rick Scott is overstepping his authority.” Democratic Progressive Caucus President Susan Smith stated in a news release announcing the group’s resolution.

Victor Torres seeks to save call-center jobs

State Sen. Victor Torres has introduced a bill to force call center operators to give extended notices if they intend to shut down or move call-center jobs out of state or overseas.

The Orlando Democrat filed Senate Bill 1632 to require call centers that reduce their staffs by more than 30 days relocate outside of Florida to give notice to the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation 120 days in advance.

It also requires the department to establish an inventory list of call centers and numbers of employees, and create financial penalties for companies not in compliance with notification requirements. The bill also would bar non-compliant companies from obtaining certain state grants, loans, or tax benefits for five years.

Torres’ bill is a companion to House Bill 815, which state Rep. Robert Asencio, a Miami Democrat, filed last month. They have dubbed the bills the ‘Save Florida Call Center Jobs Act of 2017.’

Both Miami and Orlando have numerous call centers, and a press release issued by Senate Democrats said nearly 350,000 Floridians are currently employed in customer service and support call center jobs today in the Sunshine State. The release also states that those jobs are draining away, as companies outsource to states or countries with cheaper labor.

“Off shoring and out-sourcing of jobs may be good for the corporate bottom line but it has tragic consequences for the working men and women of Florida,” Torres stated in the release.

Under federal law, large employers already are required to submit 60-day “Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification” notices to the state Department of Economic Opportunity for large layoffs or closings.

Asencio said there is a cyber security issue involved in job center relocations.

“Call center workers often handle sensitive financial, health care and personal information that Floridians have a right to know is secure and protected,” he stated in the release. “When that interaction involves state business, it is only proper that their tax dollars are being used to support a secure and professional call center here in Florida. Not only is this about the good jobs that call centers support in communities across the state, it is about ensuring that we are at the forefront of data security.”

This bill will require existing call centers planning to relocate outside of Florida, or reducing their staff by more than 30 percent, to notify the Department of Business & Professional Regulation 120 days in advance of any relocation or downsizing. It also authorizes DBPR to establish an inventory list of call centers and number of employees and create a financial penalty for companies not in compliance with the notification requirements. Once on the non-compliance list, the bill would also bar these companies from certain state grants, loans and tax benefits for five years.

The AFL-CIO has expressed support.

“We thank the sponsors of the new legislation for their leadership and for recognizing that taxpayer money should go to strengthen Florida’s economy. It shouldn’t be used to ship jobs overseas,” Don Abicht, President of CWA Local 3122, which represents Florida’s communication workers said. “The ‘Save Florida Call Center Jobs Act of 2017’ is an important bill that would help American workers, protect American communities, and benefit American consumers’ safety.”

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